Seasonal flu in children: causes, symptoms and ways to prevent

While winter brings cozy mornings and shorter days, treating the seasonal flu is a big part of the winter agenda in most households! Seasonal flu is a common, but extremely annoying disease that occurs at the beginning of winter. A temperature drop of even a few degrees at night, and perhaps in the morning you will have a seriously ill child, with a severe cough and a runny nose. Tell us all about the seasonal flu in children.

How does seasonal flu differ from the common cold?

Both have a stuffy nose and cough, but seasonal flu and colds are actually very different. Dr. Neeraj Gupta, allergist, pediatric intensivist and sleep specialist explains that the cause of these two varies. “Flu is caused by the flu virus, while the common cold can be the result of other viral infections such as RSV, rhino, entero or adenoviruses.”

Additionally, a cold may not be that serious and children may only show symptoms such as coughing, sore throat, sneezing, or a stuffy nose. A cold can occur anytime and anywhere! “On the other hand, seasonal flu is more common in changeable weather with high fever, severe body aches, headaches and fatigue. Fever may be accompanied by chills. Coughing and breathing difficulties may occur. Nasal symptoms may be present and of mild intensity,” says Dr. Gupta.

Recovery time also varies. Flu symptoms can last longer than two weeks, but a cold should clear up in a maximum of five to seven days. Flu may require medical attention, but colds usually clear up on their own.

When is seasonal flu dangerous in children?

How serious can coughing, runny nose and body aches be? Well, there are a few telltale signs to look out for! “These may include high fever, persistent coughing, rapid or shallow breathing, withdrawal of the chest, bluish discoloration of the lips or arms, cold extremities, severe headache, loss of appetite, lethargy or inactivity or increased irritability, the child is not feeling well or doesn’t look good.” says Dr. Gupta. If your child has these symptoms, you should take him to a pediatric ward.

Another point to keep in mind is that if the child has other chronic diseases such as asthma, immunodeficiency, kidney, liver or heart problems, or is taking medications for a long time that can suppress immunity, the flu may cause more problems, advises Dr. Gupta.

Children need to be protected against flu. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

How contagious is seasonal flu in children?

If your child gets sick again and again, it is probably because of other children at school. The flu is contagious and can spread easily. That’s why in schools one student after another gets sick in one classroom. Dr. Gupta says, “The most common route of spread is droplet transmission. Viruses can be transmitted from infected to healthy children while coughing or sneezing nearby. It can spread quickly in crowded places such as schools, indoor playgrounds, cafeterias and the like. The virus can also spread through contact with contaminated hands,” he says.

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Tips to prevent seasonal flu in children

Prevention is always better than cure and there are many simple but practical ways you can work on your immunity and overall health and actually prevent seasonal flu. Some basic hygiene factors must also be taken into account. Dr. Gupta mentions some practical ways to keep the seasonal flu at bay.

  1. Flu vaccine is the best way for prevention. Every child between 6 months and 5 years of age should receive an annual flu vaccine.
  2. Adopting a healthy lifestyle is important. This benefits a child’s overall health.
  3. Regular hand washing should be encouraged.
  4. Children should use their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.
  5. Used tissues should be disposed of carefully.
  6. Avoid frequent touching of eyes, mouth and nose.
  7. Close contact with sick people should be avoided and children should be kept away from relatives who are suffering from the flu.

How to treat seasonal flu at home

  • Adequate hydration is key to good recovery and also promotes overall health and well-being.
  • Symptomatic treatment such as antipyretics for fever and warm saline gargling are helpful.
  • The room temperature should be within a comfortable range (22-24°C), in a noise-free, soothing environment
  • The child should get enough rest, which will help strengthen the immune system.
  • A cough syrup or antimicrobial agent may be used. But this should only be used after consulting a doctor.

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